THEY waved a large Union flag and played a rousing selection of patriotic tunes, including Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory.

Amid scenes that would not have looked out of place at the Last Night of the Proms, hundreds of people attended a massive demonstration in the New Forest.

The atmosphere they created reflected their fighting spirit and determination to preserve their way of life.

All roads led to Wilverley Plain, near Brockenhurst, on Saturday as the Forest staged one of the biggest protests the area has ever seen.

Horse owners and dog walkers joined forces to condemn the New Forest National Park Authority and all the restrictions contained in its new recreation management plan.

The protesters, many of whom were on horseback, called for the unelected body to be abolished.

The demonstration was staged by the newly formed pressure group Forest Uprising, which launched a £50,000 fighting fund at the event to finance a possible legal challenge to the proposals.

Speakers included the area’s two MPs, Desmond Swayne and Dr Julian Lewis.

Dr Lewis, who represents New Forest East, said: “When the New Forest National Park was being set up Desmond and I said we were worried about the accountability, democracy and sensitivity with which it would be run.

“If you take away democracy and accountability, the people who are supposed to be our representatives tell us what to do.

“More often than not they get it absolutely wrong – and that’s what’s happening now.

“This fat, impenetrable document took many months to prepare but the community has been given just ten short weeks to respond.”

Dr Lewis described the National Park Authority as out of touch and added: “The only solution is to get rid of it.”

Mr Swayne, who represents New Forest West, said: “The people who wrote the document, whatever their motives, know precious little about keeping a horse or walking a dog.

“They want to make their mark – and that mark will be made on you and your rights.”

If the proposals are approved, horse owners will have to obtain planning permission for a raft of activities affecting their animals.

Dog owners say proposals to create “dog-free” car parks will effectively exclude them from huge parts of the Forest.

Audrey Pocock of the New Forest Tourism Association warned that the proposed restrictions could damage businesses that relied on visitors to the Forest.

She said: “The tourists won’t come – why should they? They won’t be able to walk their dogs and enjoy the Forest.

“The whole industry will be enormously affected. I don’t think the National Park Authority has any idea what will happen if these proposals are adopted, so let’s say ‘no’ to this ridiculous nonsense.”

The demonstration was attended by representatives from the British Horse Society and other members of the equine community.

Farrier Alex Chalmers said: “It’s important that everyone in the Forest stands together, shoulder to shoulder, and says ‘no’ to everything that the National Park Authority stands for.”

The demonstration was attended by at least two members of the National Park Authority – Alan Rice and Maureen Holding.

Mrs Holding, also a district councillor for Brockenhurst, decided to enter the lion’s den and address the placard-waving crowd.

She said: “I’m here to listen to you all.

It’s very important that everyone has turned out today to speak their mind about what they want."

Boss defends far-reaching proposals

THE head of the New Forest National Park Authority has defended the controversial plans which provoked up to 1,000 objectors to stage their mass protest.

Chairman Clive Chatters insisted that the far-reaching proposals about horse-ownership, dog-walking and roads were among many ideas to conserve the Forest for future generations.

Road tolls are among the suggestions contained in the draft recreation strategy document, which runs to more than 100 pages.

Mr Chatters said: “Traffic has a real and increasing impact on the things that make the National Park special and people should consider in responding to these plans what they would like us and our partners to do about it.

“If people have other ideas for tackling traffic we are keen to hear them.

“The idea of pricing is nothing new and features in transport plans for the New Forest area already, but there are no specific plans for road pricing at this stage.

“I urge everyone with a genuine interest in the New Forest National Park to read the plans and respond either online or on the forms provided.

“In that way, their views will be taken into account by authority members before any decisions are taken on the final plans.”

Objectors claim that proposed new restrictions on the way horses are kept could force people to sell their animals or have them put down.

National Park Authority members say one of the key proposals aims to ensure that each horse has enough grazing land to meet its needs.

They also insist that the new regulations would prevent fields being divided into smaller paddocks, resulting in a proliferation of unsightly sheds and fences.

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